KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the Friday debut of “WWE Smackdown” on FOX, both the network and WWE are anticipating a new partnership that could be worth billions of dollars.
But here in Kansas City, and particularly at FOX4, there’s nothing new about live wrestling on television.
In fact, pro wrestling and WDAF are tag-team partners that date all the way back to the first days of television as a broadcast medium.
“It is a huge deal,” said Chris Gough, a local wrestling promoter with a long-working relationship with the WWI. “It’s a huge deal that WDAF had such a big moment in its history, for professional wrestling in Kansas City. It’s ironic that it’s coming full circle and coming back on FOX4 now.”
Gough produced the documentary “K.C. on the Mat,” a visual history of wrestling and television in Kansas City.
As the first television station in Kansas City in the late 1940’s, WDAF craved programming to fill the broadcast schedule.
At that time, decades before Vince McMahon consolidated wrestling, it was a regional attraction. Kansas City served as the headquarters for what was known as wrestling’s “Central States Region.”
“All the surrounding states didn’t really have a huge town with professional teams so basically Kansas City became the hub,” Gough said.
In those early decades of televised wrestling, local stations (like WDAF) actually held matches in a cramped, converted news studio.
“You had less than 100 people in there clapping around the walls in the studio,” Gough said. “But that was basically a big commercial for them to sell a lot of tickets for Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas or Municipal Auditorium.”
Kansas City and the WWE are also forever linked, in a sad way, to a tragic accident at Kemper Arena in May of 1999.
Owen Hart fell to his death in a stunt gone wrong. The moment was not televised, but will be never be forgotten by the people in the arena that night.
“Just a freak accident,” Gough said. “No one knew how to respond or go forward with it.”
These days, even away from the bright lights of network television and the WWE, pro wrestling remains a reliable spectacle in the metro. Hundreds routinely turn out to watch Journey Pro wrestling at Kanza Hall in Overland Park.
“I think it’s the perfect mix of sports and theater,” said Christian Rose, a Journey Pro wrestler.
“It’s like you are in a whole other world,” said Allie Kat, another wrestler. “It’s like watching a movie, or going to a play or reading a book.”
One of the most colorful connections between the modern day WWE and Kansas City is local artist Rob Schamberger. The creative genius behind much of the artwork and merchandise, featuring the Superstars of the WWE, Schamberger is the WWE’s Artist-in-Residence.
“WWE likes what I do, and they let me do it,” Schamberger said humbly.
As a longtime fan in addition to currently being on the payroll, Schamberger also marvels and the long and dedicated relationship between Kansas City and professional wrestling.
“It’s where the fictional world is hitting the real world, and right there in the ring is where they intersect,” Schamberger said.
Schamberger compares the spectacle to watching a play in classic Greek times.
“You’re actually engaging with this thing that’s happening in front of you, you’re a part of it and there’s nothing like it,” he said.